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Overnight Energy: EPA rule exempts many polluting industries from future air regulations | Ex-Michigan governor to be charged over Flint water crisis: report | Officials ousted from White House after papers casting doubt on climate science

Overnight Energy: EPA rule exempts many polluting industries from future air regulations | Ex-Michigan governor to be charged over Flint water crisis: report | Officials ousted from White House after papers casting doubt on climate science

HAPPY TUESDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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ON THE REG(ULATION): The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday finalized a rule that would allow future greenhouse gas limits only on power plants, sidestepping oversight over the oil and gas industry, iron and steel manufacturers and other polluting industries.

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The new rule from the EPA argues that only sectors whose pollution accounts for more than 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are “considered to contribute significantly to dangerous air pollution.”

The rule is a direct response to a 2017 executive order from President TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE that asked agencies to “immediately review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.” 

David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Climate and Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defence Council, called the EPA’s new 3 percent figure arbitrary, given that the Clean Air Act called on the agency to regulate any industry that contributes significantly to dangerous air pollution.

“Well surprise, surprise. The only industry above that is the power sector, and power way above that, but even next biggest one, which is oil and gas and their methane leakage, falls blow that threshold, so all other industries would get a free pass on the principle section of the Clean Air Act that allows you to regulation greenhouse gasses,” he said.

“It’s a get out of the Clean Air Act free pass to every industry whose greenhouse gas emissions are smaller than the power sector,” he added. 

According to the calculations from the EPA, the oil and gas sector contributes between 2.5 percent and 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

But because the industry is responsible for methane emissions, its greenhouse gas contributions can be especially dangerous, given that the gas is 80 times more potent than carbon over a 20-year period.

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Oil refiners, boiler makers, cement manufacturers, iron and steel producers and landfills would also not face additional greenhouse gas regulations.

“EPA’s new significance framework lays out how the agency will determine when stationary sources of greenhouse gases trigger a requirement" to set new standards, EPA administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerBiden 'freeze' of Trump rules could halt environmental rollbacks 15 states sue EPA over decision not to tighten pollution standard for smog 13 states sue EPA over rule allowing some polluters to follow weaker emissions standards MORE said in a release announcing the rule.

The rule won’t take effect for 60 days after it is published in the federal register, meaning it is likely to be blocked by the incoming Biden administration, which has pledged to sign an executive order on Day 1 freezing the implementation of any “midnight rules” that have not yet taken effect.

But if left to stand, the rule would make a significant dent in the Biden administration’s ability to meet its stated goal of getting the U.S. on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Read more about the rule here. 

CHARGES AHEAD: Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) on Tuesday was informed that he and other top former state officials including the Michigan health director will face charges resulting from an investigation into the Flint water crisis, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Defense attorneys were informed by the state attorney general's office to expect an initial court appearance soon, the AP reported, citing two people familiar with the prosecution. The two sources familiar with the matter spoke to the wire service on the condition on anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the charges.

The specific charges Snyder and his former top officials will face were not named. 

A spokesperson for the state AG told the AP that state officials "will share more [information about the charges] as soon as we’re in a position to do so.”

The Hill has reached out to the Michigan attorney general's office. 

Michigan Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBiden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs Overnight Energy: EPA rule exempts many polluting industries from future air regulations | Ex-Michigan governor to be charged over Flint water crisis: report | Officials ousted from White House after papers casting doubt on climate science Ex-Michigan governor to be charged over Flint water crisis: report MORE (D), whose district includes parts of Detroit, tweeted her approval of the news Tuesday afternoon, writing: "The justice train is coming through."

Snyder's administration was heavily criticized over the water crisis, which exposed thousands of Flint residents including young children to water with dangerously high levels of lead. Lead is an element that can cause brain damage and other defects with high exposure.

The water supply issue was linked to an outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease which sickened dozens in the area

Read more about the reported charges here. 

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‘YOU’RE FIRED’ Two controversial officials who have questioned climate science have been dismissed from the White House after they apparently published papers, which claimed to be from the administration, that promoted skepticism about climate change and its impacts. 

The Washington Post reported that David Legates and Ryan Maue were ousted from the White House after the papers, which purport to be copyrighted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), came to light. 

Office spokesperson Kristina Baum told the Post in an email on Tuesday that OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier “was outraged to learn of the materials that were not shared with or approved by OSTP leadership.”

“He first became aware of the documents when contacted by the press. As a result, Dr. Droegemeier took swift action and the individuals responsible have been relieved of their duties at OSTP,” Baum said. 

Legates and Maue may return to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where they were hired before being detailed to the White House. 

NOAA spokesperson Scott Smullen told The Hill in an email that “the actions will be reviewed under NOAA's Scientific Integrity Policy,” but said the agency doesn’t discuss personnel matters. 

“NOAA was not involved in the creation or posting online of the climate change flyers that have been allegedly attributed to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, nor does NOAA endorse the flyers. OSTP is investigating the issue," Smullen said. 

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A non-governmental website for a group called the Center for Environmental Research and Earth Science published the so-called “Climate Change Flyers.”

Legates apparently wrote an introduction to the papers, which billed them as briefs on “the current state-of-the-science on various topics of climate change.”

And a paper casting doubt on whether human-caused climate change was conclusively impacting hurricane activity in the Atlantic was attributed to Maue. There has been research finding that climate change is making hurricanes more intense. 

One of the participants, University of Alabama in Huntsville research scientist Roy Spencer, also posted the papers on his website, saying that Legates asked him and others to write “brochures that supported the general view that there is no climate crisis or climate emergency.

Spencer indicated on his website that Legates “hopes to be able to get these posted on the White House website by January 20...but there is no guarantee given recent events.”

Read more about their removal here and get more background on “The Climate Change Flyers” here. 

HOT TAKES:

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“We will consider bold legislation to defeat the climate crisis by investing in clean energy infrastructure and manufacturing, which will create millions of good jobs for Americans, regardless of zip code,” wrote Sen. Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer becomes new Senate majority leader US Chamber of Commerce to Biden, Congress: Business community 'ready to help' Why pretend senators can 'do impartial justice'? MORE (N.Y.), the chamber’s top Democrat, in a dear colleague letter, as his party prepares to take power. 

Read more about the letter, which also delved into last week’s attack on the Capitol, here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING:

Bernhardt OKs contentious BLM law enforcement reforms, E&E News reports

A river used to run through it: how New Mexico handles a dwindling Rio Grande, The Guardian reports

As Climate Change Drives Migration To N.H., Towns Face Tension And Opportunity, New Hampshire Public Radio reports

ICYMI: Stories from Tuesday…

Wildfire smoke to blame for up to half of soot pollution in parts of western US: research

Coronavirus linked to largest drop in greenhouse gas emissions since World War II: research

Ex-Michigan governor to be charged over Flint water crisis: report

Administration official apparently leads series of papers casting doubt on climate change

EPA rule exempts many polluting industries from future air regulations

Officials ousted from White House after papers casting doubt on climate science